Will Beantown Give The Democrats Indigestion?

What makes a political party choose a particular city for its convention? Safety, hotel space and the ability to handle large crowds? How about sex appeal? There's little doubt that the Democrats chose Boston for reasons of love, but the Republicans aren't so impressed with the union and they're doing their darndest to spoil the romance.

Boston, the Dems might say, is "wicked cute." She boasts a revolutionary spirit — the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, etc. — that the Democrats can refer to and adopt as their own by relating it to their desire to unseat the ruling party.

She also has a mind of her own. The convention's Web site asserts that the Dems chose Beantown because of its forward thinking: "From the first public school and public library to an international center of education and a thriving knowledge-based economy, Boston has always been comfortable setting the pace."

Massachusetts is a trend-setter in other more notorious realms. In November, the state's Supreme Court decided that a state law barring same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts constitution. But it is that very cutting-edge nature of this city and the state of Massachusetts that the Democrats' adversaries are attempting to use against them. If they are successful, it may end up that for the Dems, Boston was Ms. Wrong.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry represents Massachusetts in the Senate and he also served as lieutenant governor to former Governor Michael Dukakis — the Democrats' nominee in 1988 best known for his miserable defeat at the hands of George H.W. Bush. The elder Bush waged a campaign that painted Dukakis as a "Massachusetts liberal" who was out of sync with the rest of the United States. This message hit home particularly with Southern voters, who harbor an age-old distrust of "Yankees."

GOP consultant Rob Gray recognizes the potentially devastating effect of trying a similar strategy with Kerry. ''Dukakis is Typhoid Mary for the Democrats," Gray said. "He and his 1988 campaign symbolize everything that puts Massachusetts out of the national mainstream."

And that's just the way the GOP is playing the selection of Boston as the convention city. Campaigner Bush no longer refers to Kerry by name or even as "my opponent." Instead, Kerry is described as "the Senator for Massachusetts" or a "Massachusetts liberal" who is "culturally out of step with the rest of America."

On the campaign trail, Bush is working hard to draw the distinction between the values of Massachusetts and those of his own voter base in the South. "When [Southerners] go to the polls to vote for president," Bush has said, "they'll understand the senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values. I'm going to carry the South because the people understand that they share — we share values."

Much of the attack has focused on the recent legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. This could be a real fault line dividing Kerry from the South, considering every Southern state except New Mexico has passed legislation to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. To them, pioneer efforts in this field are a turnoff.

Though it may seem that by choosing Boston, the Democrats are doing the Republicans' work for them, recent polls show that the label "Massachusetts liberal" may not carry the same impact that it did 16 years ago. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 20 percent of voters felt it mattered that Kerry was a "Massachusetts liberal," and in a CBS poll, only 4 percent of voters said gay marriage was the main issue for them in this election.

The polls indicate that "values" issues may be marginalized by issues voters see as more important, such as the war on terror, the economy and homeland security.

So Boston might leave her lipstick on the Democrats' collar, but voters may not even notice, as it seems they're focused elsewhere.